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Innovation in Free Software is No Fantasy - page 4

Buffy the FUD-Slayer?

  • December 10, 2007
  • By Bruce Byfield

These technical innovations are impressive in themselves. Yet to concentrate on them would be to miss over half the story. Probably the most important innovation in free software is the concept itself--the idea that you benefit from giving knowledge away, rather than hoarding it.

Working with free software everyday, as I do, it is easy to forget just how radical this idea was when it was introduced, and how radical it remains in many circles. You can still meet people today whose first reaction is that free software is too good to be true, and that there must be a catch somewhere.

And no wonder: in legal and business terms, free software turns the conventions of the proprietary world upside down. It creates new business models, and changes priorities. It brings companies that are rivals together to work on projects that benefit them most. Rather than owning the software, companies become distributors and sellers of expertise, placing themselves in a new relation to customers, who have greater rights and control of their software than ever before.

The implications are so far-ranging that, after a decade of free software-based business, we're still working them out--and that, more than anything else, shows just how innovative free software is by definition.

When free software was younger, the myth that it couldn't innovate was superficially plausible. It hadn't had the time to do so. But, somewhere in the last five or six years, the myth has become too riddled with holes to be credible. If detractors like Lanier want to continue bad-mouthing free software, they'll have to do some innovation of their own if they want to be convincing. Unlike Dracula, this myth isn't coming back any time soon.

This article originally appeared on Datamation, a JupiterOnlineMedia site.

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